Wanderings & observations – urban & rural.

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Self portraits taken in a rough restroom at a ferry dock on Lummi Island, WA.

Fireweed (Epilobium augustifolium) seedpods shot at a park outside Seattle.

Header photo taken inside the car through the windshield, of branches in the rain.

All taken with my Samsung S4.

Ghost Ships in a Japanese Garden

In the murky waters of a

Japanese garden,

like ghost ships,

koi glide silently.

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Orange and green,

above and below.

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In the Japanese garden

the essence is emphasized -

the gentle curve of

willow,

the smooth texture of

bamboo.

the feathered tips of

maple leaves.

 

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The Seattle Japanese Garden at Washington Park Arboretum.

Foggy Island Saturday

On a recent Saturday – a blue, high-ceiling day -

I rode the ferry to Whidbey Island, where

the main road traces a curvy spine -

climbing and dropping,

climbing and dropping.

With no views

of malls.

It’s a world apart.

On the island’s west shore, a narrow strip of land fronts Admiralty Bay

(a bay that connects Puget Sound and Seattle to the Salish Sea and the great Pacific Ocean beyond).

It drew me in for a look.

Where the rock-strewn beach hooks westward,

a ferry idled in the fog. Fishermen gazed into dark waters.

Behind the driftwood-littered shore,

a marshy lake: its wet, salty earth stained red with Glasswort (Salicornia).

Known as Pickleweed and Samphire, the odd little vegetable is harvested

and eaten

around the world.

 

Grasses criss-crossed in the field, like a finely etched engraver’s plate.

 

 

On the road to Ebey’s Landing, fog,

thick as cotton, smudged a hillock of Douglas fir

behind an old farmhouse.

Bicyclists stopped for pictures.

Round the curve, down the hill…

park the car, step onto the beach…

Breathe.

I walked alone up the beach.

I found another wetland there, shrouded

in fog rolling in

from the Salish sea,

softening the colors

so subtly.

 

 

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On the beach side, driftwood giants

rose up -

sky, land, sea,

wood, grass, rock -

all one.

Water is the common denominator -

mighty bull whip kelp sloshed

back and forth,

back and forth,

slowly washing up onto land.

Fog silvered the water.

 

It all left me

finally,

speechless.

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Whirling Golds and Bedragled Greens: the Pull of Fall

 

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ENDURING

A photo of a neighborhood cafe that I took in April, 1973 on St. Simons Island, off the Georgia coast:

 

Hazel’s still stands, at 1166 Demere Rd on St. Simons Island, GA.  If you google the street view, you’ll notice the paint is long gone and the car no longer lurks in the background.

My maternal grandparents retired from Manhattan to a rambling home on neighboring Sea Island in the early 1960’s. We spent Easter vacations there every year. When I was old enough to drive I would borrow the car and go exploring. The best finds were places like this, that exemplified the island’s rich history, or discovering a small treasure trove of old 45’s (Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie) in a little record store on the mainland.  I explored a marshy pond off a back road and found alligators – a little too close for comfort – and a black bird called a Smooth-billed Ani, which was very rare in Georgia.

Some things endure, some don’t.

I’m white, and the privilege of my race and class afforded me many wonderful experiences in Georgia back then. Not so much the local African American population, most of whom were employed in service to whites, worked long hours and likely didn’t have the time and freedom to wander around anywhere they wanted, in search of interesting sights.

The ease of being Caucasian endures in this country, and the challenges of being African American can still be life-threatening.

Hazel’s cafe apparently endures too; unfortunately I lost the 45’s.  The nameless cafe in the header photo is probably long gone, and alligators are probably scarce in the area, with all the developments and golf courses, but the Smooth billed Ani is still considered a vagrant in Georgia.

(Weekly Photo Challenge: Endurance)

In Stillness and in Motion

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In stillness

and in motion,

the wet and the dry intermingle,

reflect each other, are

separate

and

merge.

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Photographs from Youngs Creek Falls in Snohomish County, Washington.

A Flower Triggers a Memory

On Saturday I walked through Mt Rainier’s colorful alpine meadows and photographed the views and wildflowers. It was a gloriously clear September day on the mountain.  Flowers long gone to seed near my home are in peak bloom now at 6000′, and species that would never show their faces at lower elevations were in evidence, too.

One little beauty revealed itself better after I got home and looked closely at the photo.  It’s called Grass of Parnassus (Parnassia fimbrata) though it’s not a grass and does not grow on Mt. Parnassus!  A fine, squiggly fringe protrudes between the five delicate white petals, and the five stamens are split into glistening hooks. I probably had seen it before but I didn’t remember it’s name. When I looked it up and saw that it was called Grass of Parnassus, there was my mother’s voice, saying that name in my ear. I was instantly transported back to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina.

My mother especially loved the little wildflowers that grow close to the ground – the ones that demand a closer look. We would go for drives and hikes up in the Blue Ridge Mountains when I visited and she would point them all out – “Oh, that’s a Stiff Gentian – Nodding Lady Tresses – Grass of Parnassus.”  Under the trees around her home she planted the native wildflowers that suited her location, delighting in their return each spring.

In October 1998 she returned from a trip to another mountain range, the Italian Alps, feeling slightly ill. She made an appointment to see her doctor and a round of referrals began, which ended with the shocking news that she had pancreatic cancer.  A vital, healthy 75-year-old, she was never sick and rarely even caught a cold. In those days a pancreatic cancer diagnosis meant 6 months to live. Maybe.

She stubbornly refused to schedule any treatment until after Thanksgiving and Christmas had been celebrated according to family traditions. After the holidays her friend Martha drove my mother to Duke University Hospital, where she had exploratory surgery. I flew down from New York and waited nervously that day in the hospital, but it was a short wait – the cancer was inoperable.  A month or so later my mother began the grueling chemo and radiation regimen doctors prescribed as the next best thing to surgery. Every few months I came down to help out.

Late summer brought a brief reprieve in the disease course, allowing her to attend the local outdoor classical music festival she so loved.  And one day we  drove back up to the Blue Ridge Parkway. She didn’t have enough energy for a hike, but we explored the rocks near the road, where she showed me the Grass of Parnassus.

 

It turns out that several flowers go by that name. The pretty little flower I photographed on Mount Rainier and the one my mother loved are very similar.  Both flowers reward us when we take a close look – the western version with it’s fancy fringing and the eastern flower with its subtle tracery of veins. Here’s the flower my mother showed me that day (photo by Craig Fraiser of Arkansas):

Parnassia asarifolia

My mother managed to celebrate one more Thanksgiving with her family. As Christmas approached she must have vowed to make it that far, no matter what.

At dawn on Christmas day she took her last breath in her own bed, the humble little wildflowers at rest underground in the woods around her home, waiting for spring.

 

On the Windowsill

OLD Buddha

in your flaming robes,

sit.

Sit until the color disappears,

and a shadow

remains.

 

 

 

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SIGNS and INSTRUCTIONS

 

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SIGNS and INSTRUCTIONS

A RR Crossing sign…

the yellow rectangle in the sidewalk…

in New York City, a tree stump might be dangerous…

in Washington state, tree cutting is serious business…

a ferry’s emergency evacuation slide…

DO NOT ENTER THE WATER…and other ideas….

a weathered sign…

the Un-sign…

chalked instructions on the street.

 

Thinking About Signs:

From Buddhism and Postmodernity, by Jin Y. Park:

Language itself is…”an arbitrary sign system, and the “signifier cannot claim anything about the nature of the signified. Language functions on a tentative agreement between the signifier and the signified. That this agreement is tentative, however is frequently forgotten: in the naming process the signifier is identified with the essence of the signified, and this essence is further reified, paving the way to create a fixed Truth, which in turn assumes a central role in one’s understanding of the world and of being.”

 

Charles Sanders Pierce’s theory of signs, from the Stanford University online encyclopaedia of philosophy:

Basic Sign Structure

I define a sign as anything which is so determined by something else, called its Object, and so determines an effect upon a person, which effect I call its interpretant, that the later is thereby mediately determined by the former. (EP2, 478)

What we see here is Peirce’s basic claim that signs consist of three inter-related parts: a sign, an object, and an interpretant. For the sake of simplicity, we can think of the sign as the signifier, for example, a written word, an utterance, smoke as a sign for fire etc. The object, on the other hand, is best thought of as whatever is signified, for example, the object to which the written or uttered word attaches, or the fire signified by the smoke. The interpretant, the most innovative and distinctive feature of Peirce’s account, is best thought of as the understanding that we have of the sign/object relation. The importance of the interpretant for Peirce is that signification is not a simple dyadic relationship between sign and object: a sign signifies only in being interpreted. This makes the interpretant central to the content of the sign, in that, the meaning of a sign is manifest in the interpretation that it generates in sign users. Things are, however, slightly more complex than this and we shall look at these three elements in more detail.

 

 

 

Cascade Blueberries

Less than an hour from Seattle, a mountain pass is crisscrossed by two thoroughfares – busy interstate highway 90 and the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,600 mile long hiking trail originating in Mexico and ending in Canada. The pass is also home to a small ski area; the cluster of stores and restaurants around it must be a welcome sight to footsore through-trekkers on the PCT.  For those of us who don’t have time for long hikes, a section of the PCT is easily accessed from a parking lot at the pass.  August is a good time to hike the trail – the nearby ski slopes, covered in snow all winter, are a swelling symphony of wildflowers and berry bushes.

Last weekend we drove up to Snoqualmie Pass, parked the car, and hiked to Lodge Lake, a small, clear lake in the forest on a short spur off the PCT. On the way back we picked blueberries and huckleberries, and this morning I made buttermilk pancakes with a LOT of berries in them. With pure Canadian Grade B maple syrup (Grade B has a stronger maple taste) it was a very satisfying breakfast.

Setting off through alpine meadows…

A highway sign in the meadow looked incongruous – is it a joke? I don’t know. I think it shows the winter path between two ski slopes.  The pink pods in the foreground are on Fireweed (Epilobium augustifolium) gone to seed:

In the distance we noticed a couple picking berries near the ski lift.

Brilliant scarlet Indian Paintbrush (Catilleja) flowers peppered the meadow and Red Elderberries (Sambucus racemosa) provided more spots of red among the greens and golds.

 

Pretty Pearly Everlasting (Analphis) swayed in the breeze.  I gave the photo below a dreamy look (using Lightroom) to evoke how enchanting it felt to me in the meadows, surrounded by wildflowers.

Just as the berries themselves were differently colored, the leaves of the blueberry and huckleberry bushes were changing, presenting a kaleidoscope of colors.

 

A few Foxglove (Digitalis) plants provided a surprising burst of pink among the bushes. They typically bloom earlier. A paler flower had spider silk stretched from its blossoms.

 

Leaving the meadow behind, we entered the forest, where one of my favorites, the dainty Deer Fern (Blechnum splicata) grows among moss-covered logs. The upright fronds with their curled under leaflets carry the spores, while the non-spore bearing fronds lie prostrate on the ground.

 

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After many twists and turns and ups and downs on the trail we arrived at the lake. Despite passing a fair number of other hikers, only two people were there, fishing from a log along the shoreline.

I sat down on a log, took my shoes and socks off, and dangled my sore feet in the clear, cool water. Dragon flies buzzed around me, too fast to photograph, and swallows swooped over the lake. In the log’s shadow, water striders took refuge from the bright sun.

While we ate peanut butter sandwiches we were mesmerized by the warm sun on our skin, the sparkling green reflections on the calm water, and the buzz of darners and dragonflies.  It was pure peacefulness. I put my shoes back on and clambered along the log-strewn shoreline to a huge old log that was so wide I could lay down on it. Which I did. Peering under the surface of the water, I saw little brown newts with bright orange undersides scattered among the submerged logs.

Back on the trail, a young Deer Fern growing on a mossy rock caught my eye, but my legs were a bit sore, so for the rest of the way I was a single-minded walker. I was thinking about those berries in the meadows.

There is was – the forest opening out to the meadow, the mountains beyond – and the promise of ripe berries to pick, and eat, and pick, and eat…

I was glad I had a big bag.

 

I stooped and gathered and got too much sun, but I didn’t care. Finally though, my water was gone and I knew it was time to take that last little piece of trail back to the car.

Clouds scudded across the peaks as we got to the parking lot, now full of activity. It had been a very pleasant day – meadows dotted with wildflowers, a deep forest with grand old trees, a picturesque lake to sit by, and abundant wild berries to taste and gather.

The prize at the end? For me, it was going across the street to an ice cream/espresso stand and ordering two shots of espresso poured over two scoops of vanilla ice cream. I slurped happily all the way home.

And today, well, the picture just does not do it justice! Trust me, the blueberry pancakes were fantastic!

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